Rounding Up XR in London
Hello and welcome.
I'm Anthony Day and this is the Sustainable Futures Report for Friday, the 25th of October.
This week Zoe Cohen, who spoke to us recently about being arrested at the XR protest in April, came to trial. We'll hear from her later. We also hear from Laura Cox who was in London for the latest XR rebellion and she too was arrested.
First, let's look at what happened over those two weeks of rebellion. The objective of XR is to get the government’s attention through acts of non-violent civil disobedience. If it leads to the police being overstretched it makes the government take notice. The government did respond – in a small way – after the April protests. In less than a year XR has succeeded where decades of letters to MPs, petitions, street stalls and demonstrations have failed, but the government has really only paid lip service to their demands. It declared a climate emergency and promised a citizen’s assembly, but did not set any deadlines. We now have a completely different government, so the persuasion has to start all over again.
XR has three demands;
The government must tell the truth about the climate crisis.
The government must publish a plan of action
The government must set up a citizens’ assembly.
We've had two weeks of civil disobedience with varying degrees of success. It started back on Monday, the 7th of October when rebels blocked some 11 routes leading to Westminster. I was there and I thought that the whole thing was overstretched and wouldn't last. In fact it did - right through until the 19th of October as planned, although the police took an increasingly hard line and there were many more arrests than during the April protest.
Operations evolved as the week progressed. The police confiscated tents and equipment and gradually lifted the barricades, arresting people and driving the rest back to Trafalgar Square. There was criticism of the media, particularly the BBC, for limited and unbalanced reporting. For example, the organisers believe that 30,000 people marched down Oxford Street. The BBC reported 3,000.
XR has a remarkable organising structure but is basically a massive alliance of separate groups with common demands and the universal commitment to non-violence. One group had the idea to delay a commuter train at Canning Town in East London. Violence flared when a protester was dragged off the roof of the train and set upon by commuters. The BBC was criticised for interviewing commuters and interviewing police but not talking to protestors. This action led to much soul-searching in the organisation and criticism of the action. Why block public transport when public transport is a green alternative? Why block commuters from an area of London where people may be on low wages and zero-hours contracts and are likely to lose disproportionately from being late for work?
The Canning Town incident was one of the few that got full media coverage.
Laura Cox travelled from York to be part of the London Rebellion. She told me why.
Our next speaker is Zoe Cohen. I talked to her back in September after she’d pleaded not guilty to charges arising from the April Rebellion. She came to trial yesterday, and I’m most grateful that she was willing to talk to us so soon afterwards.
The Prime Minister has described XR rebels as uncooperative crusties living in hemp-smelling tents. Zoe Cohen was formerly a board member of several organisations in the NHS. She subsequently worked at board level in a number of multi-national organisations. She’s no crusty. She’s a responsible member of society with more courage than I have.
There’s a lot there to think about. Thank you for listening to what has been one of the longest Sustainable Futures Reports.
Before I go, let me tell you about next week. I’ll be talking about the growth in renewable power including signs that France may prioritise renewables over nuclear, climate rules for corporations, forces behind climate denial, plumbing the depths of abandoned coal mines and the latest news from climate scientists. And climate researcher Dr Matt Winning explains how he presents the climate crisis through stand-up comedy.
I’m Anthony Day.
That was the Sustainable Futures Report.
Let me leave you with a final thought from Zoe Cohen after her court appearance.
“Far from putting me off and deterring me, it’s made me more determined”
In view of tight deadlines it has not been possible to prepare transcriptions of the interviews. Follow the link at the top of the page to listen to them.